Best time to travel to Japan

Whale Watching in Japan

A wonderful alternative to whaling from Hokkaido to Okinawa

Best time: all year round

Whale Watching
Whale Watching

Whale watching in Japan is a relatively new activity that successfully replaces whaling. Hundreds of thousands of tourists join whale watching trips bringing money into the country and saving whales at the same time. Giant marine mammals can be spotted throughout the year all around the coastline of the country from as north as Hokkaido to as south as Okinawa. Some of the destinations are quite distant but worth time and money. The top five places for whale watching include Kerama Islands, Ogasawara Islands, Choshi, Rausu, and Kuroshio-cho.

One of the best destinations to encounter the giants of the ocean is the Kerama Islands. The archipelago of small islands is set 40 km (24.9 miles) west of Naha City, Okinawa prefecture. Its transparent surrounding waters are famous with tourists, divers in particular, and lately also whale watchers. They flock between winter and spring for hundreds of Humpbacks breeding in the area. During the season, whale watching boats depart daily from Okinawa Island or Zamami Island.

Another whale place is Ogasawara Islands in Tokyo prefecture, namely Chichi-Jima and Ha-ha-Jima. The group of more than 30 little islands is located 1,000 km south of central Tokyo. The cruise from Tokyo departs 4-6 times per month and lasts 25 hours. Due to such isolation, the area boasts a truly unspoilt nature. Humpbacks are observed in winter and spring months, with the highest chance in February–April, while Sperm whales are year-round residents here. The luckiest visitors might also spot Bryde’s whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, and Short-finned pilot whales.

Whoever doesn't fancy long-distance boat rides, can surely opt for Choshi in Chiba prefecture. This old fishery town is located only two hours from Tokyo by bus or train. Whale watching tours run in November, December, and sometimes January, which is the season for Short-finned pilot whales and Sperm whales.

Rausu is a north-eastern destination for whale watching. It's located on the Pacific Ocean side of Hokkaido, on the Shiretoko Peninsula, which has been recognized as a world heritage site since 2005. Different whale species may be observed in the area between March and September: Baird’s beaked whales show up in March, April, August and September; Killer whales (orca) are mostly spotted in April, May, and June; the season for Minke whales is May to July; Sperm whales can be seen between July and September.

At last, Kuroshio-cho in Kochi prefecture is a year-round home to Bryde’s whales. Nevertheless, tours run mainly between April and late October. Local whales are particularly friendly to tourists and occasionally might approach nearly within your reach.

Tour providers encourage to wear comfortable shoes and proper outfit in case of chilly and windy weather. Sunscreen and seasick remedies are also reasonable. You also have to be aware of the fact, that despite a high probability of sighting, there's never a 100% guarantee.

Practical info

When is the best time to observe Humpback whales in Kerama Islands?

The breeding season of hundreds of giant Humpback whales in Kerama Islands is from January to March, and tourists can find daily tours departing from Okinawa or Zamami Island to witness the spectacle of mating and nursing mothers with their young calves. Show more

What makes Ogasawara Islands an exquisite destination for whale watching?

Ogasawara Islands has over 30 small islands isolated in the Pacific Ocean, providing an opportunity to observe different whales. The Humpback whale season occurs from February to April, while Sperm whales are available all year round, and other whale species like Bryde's and Short-finned pilot whales can also be spotted with luck. Show more

Where is Choshi located, and how can visitors get there?

Choshi is in Chiba Prefecture, easily accessible from Tokyo by train or bus and is an ideal place for whale watching from November to January. Tourists can observe Short-finned pilot whales and Sperm whales, while enjoying the Inuboso Fossil Museum, Choshi Port Tower, and other sightseeing attractions. Show more

Which whales can be observed in Rausu, and when is the best time to spot them?

Rausu is a spot in north-eastern Hokkaido famous for observing various whales; March, April, August, and September have sightings of Baird's beaked whales, while Killer whales are spotted from April to June and Minke whales from May to July. Visitors can spot Sperm whales mostly from July to September, making Rausu one of a kind whale watching destination, with the opportunity for whale watching from both banks and sea. Show more

How friendly are Bryde’s whales in Kuroshio-cho towards tourists, and when can they be spotted?

Bryde's whales are quite friendly towards tourists in Kochi prefecture's Kuroshio-cho, and tourists can observe these whales year-round. However, the best season to spot them is from April to late October when they might approach boats from very close, requiring sunscreen, seasick remedies, and warm clothes as the weather conditions can unexpectedly change. Show more

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